We live in a world obsessed with numbers. We count everything.
The year just rolled over from 2016 to 2017, as we count years after the birth of Christ. This New Year, we may decide to sit down and look at our wage or pension change for the year and compare it to the rate of inflation and see whether we’ve lost or gained relative to last year’s numbers. We look at the numbers of
our savings and investments; our taxes and debts. We use numbers as a measuring stick of success or failure and to see where there are areas of concern we should work on and improve.
We count things in the church as well. We count members. We count attendance. We count offerings. We pick up the new annual report and compare last year’s numbers to the numbers of the year before. However, in the church, numbers are not a measuring stick of success or failure. Numbers don’t tell us if a church is doing what Christ has mandated her to do or not.
In His Church, Christ has mandated that His Word be taught in its truth and purity, that people would be brought into His kingdom by Baptism, and that they be strengthened in the faith through the Sacrament of the Altar.
If people don’t like the truth of God’s Word that is taught and numbers decline, that is not the failure of the church. If people don’t want their children to be baptized even though they’ve been taught what Baptism is, that is not the failure of the church.
On the other hand, if the church ceases to teach the truth and numbers increase, that is not success for the church. If faithful teaching and preaching is replaced with what itching ears want to hear so that people flock to hear it, that is, in fact, a failure of that church. Such churches are no longer churches of Christ, but churches on the antichrist.
Success for the church means doing what Christ has given the church to do: forgive the sins of the repentant and retain the sins of the unrepentant so long as they do not repent; follow and teach God’s Word; baptize; commune. We don’t need to be obsessed with numbers.
This doesn’t mean we should ignore numbers. It is helpful to know how we are doing relative to our budget so we know if we need to increase giving. It is valuable to know how many of our members attend church so we know how many we need to reach out to and invite to come back to receive the gifts of God with us. It’s even useful to know how many visits the pastor is making on behalf of the congregation.
What we don’t need to do is obsess with numbers. God gives growth to His Church when and where it pleases Him. God opens hearts to give generously as a gift of the Spirit when and where it pleases Him. Let’s leave the numbers to God and focus on doing what He has mandated for us, His Church, to do.